MicroblogMondays: Challenges of Surrogacy – Anxiety Attack

 

(Warning: Another very long post)

After months of honeymoon, we have entered into a difficult phase of this pregnancy with our gestational surrogate.

Everything had been going well up until our 20 weeks ultrasound.  My trip was good.  Physically Annie felt great.  The babies were well.  The OB (not our regular one) who was seeing her for the first time said, “You are pretty darn healthy.” And it was exactly it.  She is very healthy.  She commented that the only thing that she was afraid of was the hemorrhoids coming back as she suffered so much from them at the end of her last pregnancy.  She was out of commission for seven weeks and could not even take care of her newborn.  She was traumatized by the anxiety of having hemorrhoids.  She said as long as they stay away, she’d be fine.  I remember standing in her kitchen hanging out with her and asking her if this pregnancy felt any different from her last three.  She shook her head and said she felt good.  I was feeling blessed that this pregnancy, other than the headaches that she had for a period of time, was going well.

Everything came crashing down two days later on a Saturday.  She messaged me several times asking for prayers as she was emotionally weak and super anxious because she could feel an internal hemorrhoid forming.  In the mean time, I continued to plan for things that we discussed about, such as asking for an ultrasound scan for the 24 weeks visit as well as to plan for a maternity shoot to coincide with the 28 weeks ultrasound.  Let me back up a little bit. The OB we saw the last visit wasn’t the regular OB.  I don’t know what he was smoking, but he told us that an ultrasound wasn’t needed at either 24 or 28 weeks as long as Annie feels good.  I distinctively remember our OB mentioning 24 and 28 weeks ultrasounds especially because this is a twin pregnancy. But I wasn’t going to argue with this substitute OB.  I messaged our regular OB and the response was to schedule the ultrasound.  I then wrote Annie telling her that we’d schedule an ultrasound the day we had scheduled for the 24 weeks appointment.  I also mentioned about the possibility of doing a maternity photo shoot plus the 28 week ultrasound.   The response from her shocked me.  She asked why I needed an ultrasound at 24 weeks, and said she wouldn’t do one because it would be on a day she would have her children with her, and that’d stress her out too much.

When I read that message, I was shocked that she said No to me, as well as feeling turned off by her.  The Annie that I knew had always been agreeable to what is the best for the babies.  And we have been doing ultrasound scans at every single visit.  I know that she does not like to leave her kids with babysitters and often prefers to schedule appointments on the days her husband has off.  But her monthly allowance is exactly what this is for: to pay for babysitting when necessary.  And this is necessary.  We need to check the growth of the babies to make sure that they are fine.  I sensed that it wasn’t a good day to speak with her.  She must have had a very very difficult day on that day.  So I told her that I would talk to her later about it, but I was so turned off that I didn’t even want to fly over at 28 weeks for the ultrasound or to pay for the maternity photo shoot.

Later that afternoon, Annie sent me the saddest bump photo ever.  I haven’t posted it on the page yet, and probably won’t because I don’t want to be reminded of how sad she was.  I know that you guys don’t get to see her face anyways, but in this one, she looked away from the camera with a very disturbed, sad look on her face.  I messaged her back saying, “You are really struggling there, aren’t you?”  She responded, “Yes.”  I really needed to understand what exactly she was going through, so I connected with the person closest to her: her husband.

I just have to say, I adore Kenneth.  He is even-keeled and very clear on how he expresses himself.  We spoke on the phone for about 15 minutes for me to understand what exactly Annie was going through, why she seemed to be a changed person suddenly, and what we could do to help her.  Kenneth said that this is basically Annie’s biggest fear in life, even bigger than the possibility of him losing his job.  She was hospitalized twice in the past with the pain of hemorrhoids, and like I said, couldn’t even take care of her newborn for weeks when she suffered from it last.  The fact that she started having them so early in the pregnancy rather than when they usually show up in the 3rd trimester means that she is anticipating the pain and suffering for many weeks to come.  This is something that just comes at any time, and there is no prevention if one is forming.  The pain is sometimes so excruciating that she can’t even bend down to pick up a toy without it hurting like crazy.  It diminishes her quality of life and prevents her from doing her job as a mom, a teacher (she homeschools her kiddos), and a wife.  Hence her anxiety of the pains and suffering that may come is extremely high.  Annie is proactive about it and had gone to the specialist but there is nothing much he could do because of the pregnancy.  So he banded the ones that she had on that day but couldn’t treat the ones that may or may not be coming.  Kenneth was very nice about it.  He acknowledged how hard it must have had been for me because I had been feeling so helpless living so many miles away.  He said that there is nothing anyone can do but to pray that the hemorrhoids stay away and do not come back.  He told me that Winnie, our surrogacy agent, had the same issues during her last couple of pregnancies and would be a good person to talk to.

Winnie, bless her heart, picked up the phone right away. She explained to me how debilitating this condition could be and how much Annie had been proactively treating it: drinking lots and lots of water and taking fibers. But it is what it is.  We need to give her a lot of grace, time, and space.  She told Annie to take it one day at a time, celebrating the good days and give herself grace on the bad days.  I am so thankful that Winnie is there to support Annie.  And for her to give me the perspective that pregnancies are very hard, and I can’t expect zero drama during this pregnancy.  Again, we celebrate when things are good, and hang in there with each other when things aren’t.  She did confirm with me that 24 and 28 weeks ultrasounds are standard so I could just send Annie a friendly email asking her to reschedule it at a time when her husband can watch the kids.

This is one of the moments when I think that having an agency as a third party in a surrogacy situation is so important.

But at the same time, I have been feeling down about it.  That was exactly the moment that I just wished that I’d be like a normal person with a normal uterus so I could just dictate my own body and my own life rather than relying on another person’s help completely.  It is a very vulnerable feeling.  I am not going to lie.  It has been extremely difficult for me.

Things went way downhill the next day.  I didn’t sleep well the night before.  I drafted a very nice email to Annie asking her to schedule an ultrasound on a day her husband is available because it is very important to me and Bob.  I didn’t send it until noon time.  Shortly after, Annie wrote me back telling me that she called but the doctor’s office didn’t even have us down on the original date.  And she would go see our OB on the following Monday (today) to discuss about her anxiety, so she could reschedule then.  Not even five minutes after I got her email, she wrote me a FB message with one word: “Pray”.  I didn’t understand as I had been praying for her.  She wrote another word “Now”.  Then she typed up a message that I didn’t understand, which had her husband’s name and the word “hospital” in it.  It alarmed me so much that I called her.

On the phone, Annie was sobbing and a bit incoherent.  She said she was feeling good all morning, making phone calls to doctor’s.  Suddenly, she felt like she couldn’t breathe.  The more she wanted to breathe, the more she panicked.  She said she wasn’t thinking about anything.  It just came.  I was calm but at the same time freaking out.  I didn’t know what was going on.  So I spoke to her as calmly as possible and told her to call an ambulance.  Her 6-year-old had run over to grab her neighbor who rushed over and took over the phone.  I instructed her to call the emergency medical services in town.  She hung up and did that, and called me back to let me know that the EMS would be there any minute.  I told her to give me an update when there was one.

I hung up and called Bob to let him know what went down.  I also wrote a few texts to people who would pray for us.  In these moments of uncertainty, I still had to do my job as a therapist and took my kiddo in for his session.  During the next 1.5 hours, I got a few updates.  The first one was Annie’s 19-year-old who rushed home from work to be with his mom.  He said that Annie by then had calmed down and he was going to drive her to town 35 minutes away to the hospital to our OB.  A little later, Annie’s husband called and told me what happened.  He rushed home in time to be with her before her trip to the hospital.  She didn’t end up going to the hospital.  Kenneth knew exactly what was going on with her.  She basically had an anxiety attack and her body was reacting to the accumulated stress and anxiety the previous few days by shutting down.  When she had that attack, her body was going into a panic mode, and because of the feeling of shortness of breath, her hands and feet were tinkling.  He called it a seizure which scared me half to death.  Later, he said that it wasn’t a real seizure but something called carpop.edal spasm.  He said that she had it once two years ago.  She was prescribed with a low dose of Ati.van back then.  He then complained a little saying that if he had given her a small dose of that when her anxiety started coming back, this whole incident could have been avoided.  But everyone (and I don’t know who he was referring to) was afraid that the meds was going to affect the babies so he didn’t give it to her.  Kenneth said that he had spoken to Dr. OB on the phone who was okay with her staying home that evening as long as she was calm and was breathing fine.  The EMS confirmed that her vitals were all back to normal.  She was scheduled to see our OB the next day to figure out the short term plan (for the duration of this pregnancy) and long term care (after the pregnancy) of this issue.  Kenneth had taken the next few days off to be with her.

I am not going to lie.  I was concerned about the babies.  So I asked if she had felt anything.  She doesn’t usually feel them much, but that evening she texted me saying that she felt movement.  She didn’t know if it was just moving or kicking but she did feel movements.  If I were the one carrying, I would probably have made my way to the hospital just to make sure that the babies were fine.  But I am not the one carrying, so I had to resort to trusting her for taking care of my babies.  But it was super difficult for me as the intended mother to completely trust this process and to completely trust God.

At the appointment time the next day, I was sitting there at lunch on pins and needles.  I mean, again, deep down, I wasn’t that concerned about the babies as I felt and continue to feel that they will be fine at the end.  But I am just not good with the uncertainty and new challenges and for things all of a sudden to go downhill.  With my new App.le Watch, I could see that my heart rate was over 100 the whole time waiting for an update.  Finally, Annie wrote me a message simply just saying that the babies were good and the appointment times for the 24 and 28 weeks ultrasound scans.  I asked to speak with her on the phone if she felt up for it.  A few minutes later, her husband called to give me an update.  He said that the babies looked good with great heart beats on the ultrasound.  They looked fine.  Annie’s vitals were good.  Our OB had put her on a low dose of Zo.loft so to take the edge off of her anxiety and heightened emotions.  I asked how Annie was doing.  He said, “Horrible.”  So he would drive her home and have her rest for the rest of the day.

I was feeling relieved but at the same time a bit worried.  I remember Dr. E said that the biggest indicator of preterm labor is stress.  And our surrogate is currently under a lot of stress.  I know that she can’t control how she thinks and what she feels, so I want to be as compassionate and empathetic as possible and to give her a lot of time and space.  So how does one balance that while still getting information from her about the pregnancy.  I don’t want to bother her too much and bombard her with asking her about how she is doing and how she is feeling.  At the same time, I’d want to know, because her emotions may or may not directly affect our babies.  I simply don’t know how to navigate this new and uncharted territory.  I just feel that Satan is using the one thing that she’s fearful of to get to her weakness and attack us.  On Saturday I decided to just write her a message telling her that we were thinking of her.  I didn’t expect an answer from her.  This sudden change in the direction of this pregnancy has thrown my mind into chaos, and it takes a lot of effort to live my life normally and to carry on a loving and trusting relationship with Annie.  I just can’t wait for the next milestone (24 weeks) and the next next milestone (28 weeks) to arrive.  I have to remember to:

  1. trust God
  2. trust Annie
  3. take it one day at a time
  4. pray for peace and strength
  5. breathe

Having a baby (or two) via surrogacy is a very difficult thing.  But I know that the reward will be worth it.  I just hope that Annie will be able to enjoy the rest of this pregnancy, and our joy will not be marred by any of these setbacks.  The challenge is to learn how to best support her without feeling negative or threatened by this situation.  When the babies finally come, Bob and I will be able to finally breathe more easily.

Getting Used to This Space Of Uncertainty

My husband asked me last week, “Why don’t you schedule an appointment with S?”

S is my therapist.

My husband is lovely that way.  He knows what I need.  My therapist is my sounding board.  Whenever I encounter moments of struggles or difficult decision-making, a visit with her often clears my mind or untwines the knots in my overly analytical brain.

That was the day that I was feeling the most down and depressed. I inquired about a therapy session with her.  Unfortunately she was all booked at the times that were convenient to me.  Seeing her is important enough that I rearranged my work schedule so I could fit in a session in an early afternoon on a workday.

In the two years that she’s been my therapist,  this was the first time I sat down feeling like I didn’t know where to begin.  So much had happened since I last saw her.  I thought that things would be straight forward once we choose a donor and wait for a cycle to begin.  Nothing about this is straight forward.

It took the bulk of the session to fill her in about what had happened: finding the donor, questioning about the donor agency owner’s credibility, the misunderstanding of the donor’s availability, finally making a decision to book the donor, the change of FDA recommendation for travels for egg donors due to Zika virus, the growing fibroid, the cancellation of the biopsies for the endometrial receptivity array test, the possibility of needing an abdominal myomectomy to remove the fibroid, the timeline of the surgery (to avoid recovery while in-laws are in town), the possibility of delaying this cycle once again until September.  On and on and on.  I am tired just typing it out.

Bob and I do not create drama.  But it seems like drama comes to us.  This journey has not been straight forward for us.  The twists and turns sometimes make me wonder if this is God’s way of telling me to quit trying.

I had always been calm when I shared things with my therapist.  But this time, after I finished telling the whole story, tears finally came down.  I told her that I have been trying my best to cope, but still at times, I feel emotional and anxious.  I told her that I don’t like feeling anxious at all and I just wanted it to go away.

My therapist is wonderful.  She asked, “Why wouldn’t you cry?  It is highly emotional.”  She told me the following:

  • I am a very methodical person.  I analyze things in a very systematic way.  Of course it makes me anxious that things are not going the way I want them to go.  Overanalyzing things makes a person anxious because of a sense of lack of control.
  • Since having unknowns is my reality, she told me to learn to live in this space of uncertainty and to get used to it.  Accepting this will help me cope with my feelings and ease some anxiety because expecting it will make it less overwhelming for me.
  • She said that being in the midst of it, I might not see it, but sitting across from me she sees a very resilient person.  Looking at our past of handling twists and turns in life, we know that we can handle them.  She told me to expect more twists and turns on this journey and to know that we can handle whatever that comes our way.
  • She told me to not to worry about the donor right now.  Instead, focus my energy on healing my body from anything that could interfere with a pregnancy, such as the fibroid and the surgery.
  • She told me not to focus my mind on my timeline or to worry about milestones or my age.
  • Deep down I believe I will be a mother.  She told me to hold onto that, and not to forget to tell myself that I am doing everything I can to reach that goal.
  • When I have anxiety or worrying thoughts, ask myself if they are useful.  If not, acknowledge these thoughts and let them go.
  • People often look at signs to make sense of things.  Having twists and turns does not mean that I am not meant to be a mother.

At the end, she reminded me to take deep breaths, and that I am doing a great job with whatever that we are facing.

Emotional ups and downs are inevitable, but it brings me comfort to know my therapist is always there when I need help to sort through my feelings.

At least today, I feel that I can tackle anything that may come my way.  I will call that a win.